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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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CMB: Not really. I think that...(silence).. I was very fortunate to play with a lot of older cats. I had a chance to spend a lot of time around people like Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Roy Haynes, Dr. Billy Taylor, the real founding fathers of bebop, and when I was around them, when they would start telling stories, they really did take me back to that time; I felt like I got into a time capsule when they would sit around and tell stories. But they were always very careful, and I find that this is the case with a lot of older musicians; we today always romanticize their time, and they all say "those good old days that you all talk about weren't that great most of the time." Yeah, the music was great, but there was a whole lot surrounding that music that wasn't so great, like the segregation, racism, the poor traveling conditions for musicians in those days, so they all said that it was a big drag a lot of the time.

So they would always say "you wouldn't want to go back in those days, and re-live all the BS part that went along with the music, so you guys should be happy where you are now." So I tend to agree, I'm happy with the time I was born in.

Christian McBrideAAJ: So, I asked you why "Inside Straight" ... Why "Kind of Brown"?

CMB: [Laughs] That is a little bit more confusing, I don't know why "Kind of Brown." I just thought it sounded cool. [Laughs] I was hanging out in a bar one night with Billy Childs and Jeff "Tain" Watts, and we were just hanging, talking, having fun, and the phrase "kind of brown" came up. I don't know what we were talking about exactly but I said to myself "I kinda like that...kind of brown...I'm gonna put that away." That's how it happened. I knew that at some point somebody was going to have some bright idea that I was trying to compare this to Miles Davis, which is absolutely ridiculous, but fortunately I haven't had too many of those complaints. I think I've only had one, since the recording's been out. Maybe one or two people have said "how could you do such thing to insult Miles Davis?!." It's just a name, I think people just need to chill out.

AAJ: So why did you decide to put this particular band together? Why Carl Allen, Eric Reed, Steve Wilson and Warren Wolf?

Christian McBrideCMB: Well, knowing that I was going to play the Village Vanguard, which is the haven for real straight ahead jazz, and real creative music, I called the top New York guns that I could think of. You know, Steve Wilson is a Vanguard regular, he is always playing there with someone. And Carl Allen and I have so much history together, he was a no-brainer. Eric Reed, we've been friends for 20 years, but we've never played together that often. A gig here, and gig there, but nothing where we had a chance to stretch out and make a lot of music, so I was excited about calling Eric.

And Warren, well, he was actually a former student of mine at Jazz Aspen Snowmass, the summer program that I've been the artistic director of for the last 10 years. He came out in the summer of, I believe 2000, and he was so incredible, he was so far ahead from everyone else. I promised to him, "Warren, one of these days I'm gonna start a band with you in it." That's how good he was. And it took a little while, but I called him, and wherever we go he's a big hit, he's going to be a superstar very soon.

AAJ: I think I have to admit that the first time I heard anything from this album, probably my first thought was "huh, why did he choose vibes?" It's not that common.

CMB: Well, not that many people play it. It's like nowadays you can find an abundance of really good saxophone and trumpet players, and drummers; there's too many of them, especially drummers...But vibraphonists, there aren't that many of them. The ones that can play are really incredible. I just always loved the sound of vibes. All music that includes vibes gives it this airborne sort of lift. Warren is just one of the best I've ever heard at the instrument, so...I've always been a fan of vibes. Even now a lot of people would hear the instrument and they don't know what they are. They think it's that instrument they played in elementary school (xylophone). No, it's not the same. [Laughs]

AAJ: I was thinking about something the other day, trying to remember when the first time that I remember hearing you was, as in knowing who you were, and that was with "In a hurry," from Gettin' to it (Polygram Records/Verve, 1995).

CMB: Well, you know it's amazing to me how many people still comment on my first record. I saw the producer of that record not too long ago, and he told me that that album is still selling, and it's sold almost a 100,000 copies worldwide, which for a jazz record is pretty damn good. So I have very good memories of my first CD, it was very special in a lot of levels.

AAJ: The next thing I remember about Christian McBride is seeing you on the Kansas City movie set. That's when my father was saying "that kid can play."

CMB: [Laughs] Yeah... Kansas City, that brings a lot of great memories, getting to work with Harry Belafonte, Robert Altman and all these people from the film industry. We spent about three weeks in Kansas City, and I don't have any bad memories whatsoever, but the fun memory I have of Kansas City was the fact that we had barbecue every single day, so I didn't want to see any barbecued ribs for about a year! We were so full, everybody in the band had so much gas after we did that movie, that it wasn't funny. [Laughs]

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